October Horrorshow: Villmark 2, aka Villmark Asylum

Villmark 2 is a little bit Session 9, and a little bit Texas Chainsaw Massacre. From Norway comes director Pål Øle’s follow-up to his 2003 film, Villmark, also released under the title Dark Woods. Having not seen the first film, I can’t say how closely this film tracks what came before, but the first film was about a reality TV show in the woods, and this film is about a cleanup crew inside an abandoned asylum. The two films appear related in name only.

The asylum from the title, in rural northern Norway, is set to be demolished. Before that can happen, a crew has to go in and test for all the nasty materials that inhabit old and abandoned buildings, such as asbestos and mercury. It’s here that the film bears its closest resemblance to Session 9. But it’s more of a surface similarity than anything else — a way to justify a group of people descending on an abandoned building, and having a reason to stick around long enough for a plot to unfold. This film catches a lot of flack on its IMDb page for this similarity, but it is not egregious at all.

The asylum was established decades ago for the treatment of tuberculosis (making it a sanatorium and not an asylum, but why quibble), but like all those massive edifices that once dotted the land, it was closed as treatments changed and improved.

The hazmat crew working on the building (an abandoned sanatorium outside Luster, Norway, called Harastølen, was used for exteriors) has a big job ahead of them. One of the crew, Frank (Thomas Norström), is annoyed that the crew’s boss, Live (Ellen Dorrit Villmark 2Petersen), has agreed to take on the job at all. The location is so remote that the crew had to take a helicopter in, and they contracted to do a five-day job in only three. The crew also includes Ole, Even, and Synne (Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Mads Sjøgård Pettersen, and Renate Reinsve, respectively).

Not long after the crew starts rooting around in the asylum, they encounter the building’s longtime caretaker, Karl (Baard Owe). As one expects in a film like this, Karl is a creepy oddball. He was born at the asylum under mysterious circumstances, and has lived his entire life there. In the decades since the asylum closed, he has turned the building into his own, decaying empire. He has kept the lights on and a security system running, and has also placed wildlife cameras around the building to capture movement.

Karl’s behavior, and his cameras, point to this possibly turning into a ghost flick. There are plenty of precedents. With the popularity of ghost hunting television shows, dozens of films have since been made of unsuspecting characters finding ghosts in abandoned buildings. It would have been easy for Øle to add another entry. But, as hinted at in the comparisons made in the first paragraph, the baddies in this flick are not of the spectral variety. I won’t spoil what the cast is up against any further, except to write that it’s nicely awful.

After the crew discovers the body of man hanging in a stairwell, the horror begins to kick off. The crew and Karl are not the only living things in the asylum. Karl, of course, knows what is going on, but seems reluctant to participate fully in it, or do anything that could help Live and her people. The rest of the movie follows the crew as they are winnowed down and their situation turns increasingly desperate.

There’s not much to make Villmark 2 stand out from a whole host of other films, despite its many attempts to do so. The good news for viewers is that this is no cheap cash grab. Øle is a competent filmmaker. He also has a good grasp of horror, choosing to refrain from jump scares.

As well as Øle did in constructing his film, it is derivative. For fans of horror, its familiarity will not be a plus, despite it being a decent film. This is the type of horror film that horror junkies watch when they’re sick of watching stuff they’ve already seen many, many times. I’m not sure it has appeal elsewhere, but at least it’s not bad.

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